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Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Cases

RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, established racketeering – organized crime using coercion, fraudulent business dealings, and other illicit activities, as a criminal offense. RICO also allows individuals to file a civil suit if they can demonstrate they were damaged by a racket.

What Is a RICO Case?

A RICO case can be brought forward against all individuals accused of participating in a corrupt organization.

The power behind a RICO case is largely based on the breadth of the law (35 different offenses are covered beneath the RICO Act, including broad categories such as mail and wire fraud) and the strength of the penalties attached to both civil and criminal violations.

The government can seize assets entirely in the case of a successful prosecution and can freeze assets prior to a trial to prevent members of suspected criminal or corrupt organizations from removing those assets from the reach of authorities.

What Is the RICO Act?

The RICO Act, introduced in 1970, was originally created as a way of stopping Mafia activity in the United States. Organized crime had long been a problem for police and other law enforcement officials, and the courts had proven to be fairly ineffective in curbing the activities of various crime families.

The U.S. Code lists a number of offenses and details the limits and the penalties — both civil and criminal — for those found guilty of violating the RICO Act, and more generally provides a process for aggressive prosecution of those involved in organized crime. In more recent years, with Mafia influence waning, the RICO Act has been used to prosecute members of corrupt police forces and financial institutions.

What Is Covered By The RICO Act?

The a large number of crimes detailed in federal law that are considered to be part of “racketeering activity.” These are also known as predicate offenses, and at least two predicate offenses must be alleged to have been undertaken by the defendant in order for the prosecution to invoke the RICO Act. The reason for this is that a “pattern” of offenses must take place in order to qualify for prosecution.

Some of the main crimes mentioned in the RICO Act include:

  • Murder
  • Drug trafficking
  • Counterfeiting
  • Extortion
  • Blackmail
  • Forgery
  • Money laundering
  • Bribery
  • Theft
  • Robbery
  • Mail fraud
  • Wire fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Embezzlement
  • Kidnapping
  • Illegal gambling
  • Illegal weapons trafficking
  • Financial fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Arson
  • Predatory lending
  • Obstruction of justice
  • Running protection rackets
  • Tampering with a witness or evidence
  • Retaliation against informants, witnesses, and victims
  • Illegal sports bribery
  • Extortionate credit transactions
  • Financial institution fraud
  • Fraud in foreign labor contracting
  • Illegal procurement of citizenship
  • Illegal reproduction of citizenship documents
  • sale of citizenship or naturalization documents
  • Obscene material offenses
  • Obstruction of criminal investigations
  • Obstruction of state or local law enforcement
  • False passport applications
  • Forgery or false use of a passport
  • Misuse of a passport
  • Visa fraud and related offenses
  • Human trafficking
  • Economic espionage or theft of trade secrets

What Is the Minimum Sentence for a RICO Charge?

RICO charges can be quite diverse and can be divided into both criminal cases and civil cases. RICO charges can be pursued at the federal level, as well as at the state level. Each jurisdiction offers its own minimum sentencing requirements related to RICO offenses.

If you’re facing RICO charges, federal law does not offer a minimum sentence. That being said, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s guidelines suggest a base offense level of 19 in response to RICO charges. This would result in a minimum prison sentence of between 30 to 37 months, with longer sentences depending on the frequency and severity of the alleged offense. Several state jurisdictions (including Virginia and Georgia) impose a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment for RICO charges.

If you’re facing civil RICO charges, you could end up paying triple the amount of money allegedly stolen or otherwise misappropriated from your victims. The burden of proof in a civil case is much lower than a criminal case (preponderance of evidence vs. beyond any reasonable doubt) and so the penalty is often lighter.

Can You Beat a RICO Charge?

An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help you beat RICO charges, depending on the evidence. In order to prove a RICO case in criminal court, the prosecution must establish several facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecution must prove that an enterprise existed, that said enterprise affected interstate or foreign commerce and that you were involved with this enterprise. Further, the prosecution must show that you were engaged, via this enterprise, in the commission of two of the aforementioned predicate offenses related to racketeering.

What to Do If You Are Charged With a RICO Violation

If you are being investigated for possible RICO violations, have been criminally charged with racketeering or sued in civil court on alleged RICO violations, you should seek legal counsel. The act provides steep fines and penalties, including imprisonment, for committing the crime and up to triple damages and attorney fees can be awarded in successful civil actions.

RICO targets individuals or organizations involved in long-term illegal activities. To be charged with racketeering under RICO, you must commit two of several crimes detailed in RICO within 10 years

How Can an Attorney Help With a RICO Case?

Given the relative complexity of the RICO Act and associated statutes, it is highly advisable that you consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are facing a RICO case.

Not only can legal counsel craft the best case possible in your defense, but they might be able to increase your chances of beating the charge.

You should contact an attorney to learn more about the following:

  • The complexities of the RICO statute
  • Challenges to allegations that you committed the two predicated crimes necessary to establish a RICO violation
  • Challenges to the time period during which the crimes must be committed
  • Countering allegations that you were involved in a pattern of systematic illegal activity
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